19 August 2018

Disappeared (Part 2)

Chemical drums and plastic shards. Shattered glass and crumbling brick. The gloom in part alleviated by the acid brightness of graffiti. Anarchist artwork that ranged from the sophomoric to the sublime. A fish mural, glowing orange and blue, graced one section of wall. One had to admire the dedication it took to spend (presumably) personal time and resources to trespass on a closed brownfield site for the sake of creating (presumably) unsanctioned art. Especially art that had high probability of erasure or burial or demolition. Yes, it takes determination to enrich that which is demonstrated to be falling to pieces.

The full scope of the mural, I discovered later, could best be taken in from across the river, particularly when the leaves were off the trees. It was possible to stand on the far bank and see the fish in a better light. One that was less obscured by the unfocused scrawls of less talented artists. I would come to know this in future winters. There were icy days when I stood on that far bank with cold toes and stiff fingers clutching a camera. Memory has it that the fish were viewed through a cloud of breath escaping from weary lungs. Weary eyes, too, but relieved to see such color in the brown opalescence of January gloom.

But winter gets ahead of the story of how this collection of things that no longer exist came about. The genesis truly was, as perhaps it should be, in the morning of a spring where rebirth seemed impossible. Camera as filter and shield on a journey of sanity preservation.

Stygian days of the heart often lead the mind off the path of light. It steps into the shadows of belief that everything comes from muck and descends into muck despite our best intentions or actions. Refuting that view is difficult when standing in front of collapsed walls or shuffling through cast off machine parts begrimed by carbon and waste chemicals. Darkness comforts and deceives. The proof of this is in a pulling away from the gravity of decay to view the framework of nature that surrounds it.

The brownfield was between a road and a river, nestled in a valley of forested slopes. The last regular activity of industry occurred sometime in 1972 before a tropical storm created a catastrophic flood that virtually wiped out industry along the river. The marks of it could still be seen up close and from far away. Green things grew on the sagging roofs and creviced walls. The heart would leap at the sight of a bright yellow flower atop an emerald green stalk growing out of the muck collecting in the cavity of a half-shattered concrete block. Nature will take what it wants. Nature will reclaim its own.

Nature and its juxtaposition against the disintegration of the man-made struck the singing bowl of my soul. I was unaware of that in the early days of my infatuation with these ruins, blithely ignorant of the mirror into which I was staring. My marriage was all over but for the shouting. My exhausted heart fractured into jagged shards through which my mind staggered ripped and bleeding. Darkness called loud in the ears. The ruins offered strange, new familiarity. Comfort amongst the grime and contamination left behind, where things seemed no different than in the matrix of my life.

The paperboard factory, for that is what it used to be, was an accretion of structures over time. The shells of this leviathan were a mottled testament to old stone and brick, concrete and plywood, asphalt shingles and membrane roofing. Shifts in technology and funding could be read in the skin where it wasn’t hidden under a veil of graffiti. Many hours were spent perusing the outside before the nerve was worked up to enter any portion of the buildings.

Green things grew in abundance in, on, and around these monuments to disintegration. Many were presumably what many would call weeds, but what they lacked in pure aesthetic appeal they made up for in tenacity. I suppose my subconscious mind picked up on that vibration. It drew me in. In the cool spring and sodden summer, vines climbed the walls. Great leafy bunches sprouted from the ground, floppy green things suggesting the ears of aliens. Flowers, too, could be found. Some petite and understated while others were flamboyant in their colors and floral countenance. Yellow flowers in particular made a show of it at certain points in the year.

There is comfort to be found in the company of these growing things. The threads that channel poetry to a bruised heart are limned by the living evidence before it. The river calms the mind. The blossoms convince it that survival, even prosperity, are possible after disaster and collapse. The birds will tell you this, if you hold still and listen.

I listened to the birds for weeks. They were good company as I made my way around the perimeter of the factory grounds. Vistas abounded thanks to the positioning of the site, sandwiched as it was between the road and the river. The river side was low. The road, literally, was the high road. The buildings had been built at such an elevation that it was possible to step off a retaining wall and onto an upper floor or a rooftop. By such measures I eased my way onto the structures without completely entering them.

Entering them wholly came later, once familiarity banished apprehension. It happens when the urge to satisfy curiosity overcomes the fear of the unknown. It is something the broken heart knows also.

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"Let your laws come undone
Don't suffer your crimes
Let the love in your heart take control..."

-'The Hair Song', by Black Mountain

Tell me what is in your heart...